Thursday, July 12, 2007

From where does it come?

I was having lunch with a friend the other day when the conversation drifted onto religion. A co-worker had expressed some mutual-exclusive stances (based on Mormonism) and I was explaining to my friend how incredible it is that some people can hold beliefs that are completely irrational when you consider their actions.

Although details of the story are ancillary to my point, I find it amazing that someone (the co-worker) could be a soldier in the US Military… have served time in combat in Iraq… yet maintain that they couldn't watch "Letters from Iwo Jima" because it was "R" rated and contained violence.

"But you train to kill people…". I'd protest. "You've sworn an oath to fight for your country, follow the orders of your seniors… you've seen real combat and bloodshed. Why doesn't your faith prohibit that??"

I have respect for those who object to violence in any form: whether portrayed or actual. At least their reasoning is consistent. But this: To believe it ok to serve in the military - in combat, but "bad" to watch a violent movie -- seems literally crazy.

The answer is more non-sense than I care to go into. Apparently, it's ok to serve the interests of your political leaders and kill others, but watching a historical movie about another such episode in our history is verboten.

I am amazed at how some people can compartmentalize their reasoning centers. I truly don't understand how some people function in our society.

Anyway, back to the lunch discussion. After we both had a chuckle over the obvious non sequitur, my lunch friend felt obligated to point out that religion does serve some good purpose: namely, giving us morality. As the check came I was preparing to dispute that claim with the following example (but was thwarted by a quick change of subject and subsequent distractions!)

First, there are far too many examples of "bad morality" both practiced and taught by the worlds' religions. Any examination of the old or new testament or the Koran will easily very the point. Second, there are a smorgasbord of historical outrages committed by the people who do the teaching – right up to the present day. Next, why do we feel compelled to even consult ancient barbarians about morals and ethics? It's like asking Neanderthal about physics… and lastly I offer a simple scenario.

Imagine (not that hard to do) that three different people see a homeless person on the street… The person sits quietly with a sign: "any help appreciated" … It's hot out, its obvious the man hasn't eaten in some time. All three of our hypothetical "good Samaritans" decide to help this person. Let's examine them.

The first person to come upon the scene is an atheist. This atheist sees the person – and realizing that we all only have a finite amount of time on this earth before we return to dust takes pity on him. He further realizes he would hate to be hot, hungry and without companionship. He takes the man to a diner for a sandwich.

The next person is "christian1" … Christian1 sees the homeless man and realizes that Jesus is his example in all things… that he should help this man as it would be the "Christian thing to do". He thinks this is what his lord would want him to do – he wants to be a good Christian… he wants to please Jesus. He takes the man to a diner for a sandwich.

The next person is "christian2"… Christian2 sees the homeless man and realizes that Jesus and his faith command him to help… the impetus doesn't come from him, but from his desire to be obedient. He takes the man to a diner for a sandwich.

We could add "neo-con Christian" – who sees the homeless man and reasons that if god wanted him to be comfortable and fed the man would have a job and a house.

While this scenario simplifies the emotional and empathetical facets of the individuals involved it does illustrate the differences in motivation. The question is – which man is "most moral"?

I know I'd be most proud if my child were to act out of empathy for another human being – not because some hero or authority figure desired or commanded it – but because he realized – intrinsically – it was the right thing to do.


Capt. Fogg said...

And then there's the Christian who makes the sandwich contingent upon conversion.

There's a special place in my heart for that sort.

Reign of Reason said...

People can't distinguish between false/purchased compassion from the real thing.

Actually, they just prefer the former.